Helping teachers to reflect

Reflection is one of the areas of professional development which I’m most interested in, to the extent that I’ve written two books to try and help teachers and trainers to reflect when they don’t have any face-to-face support where they work. Yesterday we had a 90-minute session with ideas for helping teachers to reflect, as part of the NILE MA Trainer Development course.

Reflection doesn’t work

I’ve tried to get teachers to reflect in my sessions. I’m a bit disappointed with the results. To be honest, I’m not really sure how to get them to think. Help!

Here’s a list of questions I came up with to ask this trainer, supplemented with ideas from my partner in the group:

  • What techniques have you tried so far?
  • When did you use them?/At what point(s) in the sessions?
  • Are your trainees ready to reflect? (both in terms of experience of teaching and of reflection i.e. do they know how to do it?)
  • How do you model reflection for them?
  • You said you were a bit disappointed with the results. What kind of results would you like to see?
  • How much time do you give them for reflection activities?
  • How concrete or abstract is the reflection? i.e. Is it based on concrete events or abstract ideas?
  • How personal is it? Do they have to ‘expose’ their beliefs/their classrooms/their ideas in any way?
  • What kind of questions are you using? i.e. Open? Closed? Leading? Hypothetical?
  • What’s the balance of listening to speaking in the reflective activities?
  • How active is the reflection?
  • How consistent/patient were you with setting up reflection? Did you persevere with it?

What would you add to my list?

Reflection on short courses

We also read an article from English Teaching Professional Issue 55 March 2008 (pp57-59) called ‘Time for reflection‘ by Sue Leather and Radmila Popovic. I’m afraid you’ll need to be a subscriber to read the whole thing. It talks about “the importance of reflection on short training courses and how to structure and support it.” There are two ideas in the article which I particularly like.

The first is timetabling 30-60 minutes into the daily schedule of the course for reflection, either at the end of the day or the beginning of the next day. It should be timetabled as ‘reflection’ and not part of another session.

The other idea is including a notebook as part of the course, which will become the participant’s journal. It will be private unless they choose to share it, and could be used for free writing, and it doesn’t matter if it’s in English or not.

Has anybody tried either of these two ideas? Did they work for your trainees/context?

3 thoughts on “Helping teachers to reflect

  1. Hello Sandy.
    Spot on.

    One could certainly argue that reflection is more important than brushing up on one’s knowledge of grammar or ELT methodology.

    I guess it depends on how vain or self-motivated one is. I recall one exchange when I taught Business English in Lodz back in 2012-13. My boss there told me that a new student I would be teaching had had problems with her previous tutor because he was obsessed with teaching “collocations”. Now, I still believe that this was an indirect swipe at me because my boss knew I was a “collocations” fanatic. I doubted then, and still doubt now, whether this “previous teacher” who was mad about collocations even existed.

    Nevertheless, I feel that this exchange was an important moment in my teaching career. Maybe I was too focused on collocations. I mean, it’s handy to learn collocations, but what then? When I left Lodz, it certainly occurred to me – what then? What are my students going to do with all these collocations?

    After this experience, I began to think more about getting students to personalise collocations; namely, creating personalised sentences with newly-learned collocations. So,
    this shift away from the memorisation of lexical chunks to getting students to think about context, personalisation and English at sentence level was a pivotal transition in my teaching career.

    Students can work with corpora and sites like to see how words and collocations behave in a range of contexts.

    In truth, we all need to take a step back before throwing our toys out of the pram and complaining about being undermined or criticised. My boss did me a huge favour.


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